Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to use 12 sticks of butter in one weekend

Making Christmas cookies is a really important part of my holidays. My family used to do it together, gathering around the table in my mom’s kitchen to press cookie cutters into the rolled dough and then reconvening a little while later to frost the cookies together. I looked forward to it every year, and I couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas without engaging in this tradition. As my brothers and I grew older, they lost interest, so soon it was just the girls in the kitchen. I remember being very proud when I was deemed responsible enough to actually roll the dough myself.
My first time doing Christmas cookies as an adult, away from home, was during college. I lived in an on-campus apartment that had a kitchen, so my roommates and I made cookies together. I’d never done it without a kitchenaid mixer before, so it was a learning experience. Judging by their facial expressions in these pictures, it was a learning experience for everyone.
After college, I moved to Pennsylvania for graduate school. Now, my Christmas cookies got a little more serious. Less time at home and no roommates to borrow from meant purchasing my own cookie cutters, cookie sheets, and rolling pin. I invited friends over to do the cookies with me, since for me this is not a solitary activity.
More time passed. After I moved to Maryland, I began stopping to visit my brother for a night before going home to my parents’ for Christmas. One year, we did cookies together. He had a strange set of cookie cutters that he had inherited from our grandmother, and included in the set was a witch on a broom. For some reason, he included this when we did Christmas cookies because he thought it was carousel horse, which also has nothing to do with Christmas but somehow seems more festive.

Unfortunately, the back half of the broom broke off, leaving us giggling like a bunch of 12 year old boys for far too long.
But I digress. Now I live in Maryland and make cookies in my own kitchen. I always invite a friend over for the sake of making it more social, but I would do it on my own if I had to. This is a run-down of what I did this year:
Gingerbread cookies (1 1/2 sticks of butter). Found the recipe on a wrapper last year, and was so pleasantly shocked at how delicious and soft the cookies were that I was careful to preserve the recipe so I could make it again this year
Snickerdoodles (2 sticks of butter). Found a recipe that was okay last year, then read a blog post that professed to have the best recipe ever. Tried it this year and got rave reviews.
Sugar cookies (2 sticks of butter) and frosting (1 stick of butter). Recipe is nothing special. The notable thing is how I accidentally left the frosting beating in my mixer for way longer than usual because I got distracted by watching hubby and the dogs play. It made the frosting especially creamy and amazing. I made my cookies thick, though, so I ended up tossing half the frosting after running out of cookies to frost.
And my specialty, thin mints. The key is peppermint extract in the dough. I found a blog post that explained how to make them last year, and they were good enough to do again. I accidentally doubled the butter in the cookie dough, so I had to double everything else. 2 sticks of butter. I only made enough chocolate coating for a normal batch, though, and left half the cookie dough in the freezer to finish another time. Another 1 1/2 sticks of butter.
(hubby says this looks like a big turd)
Last, but not least, spritz cookies. Forgot to take pictures of them. Another 2 sticks of butter. That makes 12 sticks total. Here’s everything together.
Happy holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Canine Feedback: Northwestern Salmon Chowder

I was sitting in my dining room, working on a scrapbook that I’m making as a Christmas gift, when I decided that I wanted to heat up some of my own soup that was stored in the freezer. Choices: northwestern salmon chowder, chicken noodle, or sausage minestrone. It had been a long time since I had the chowder and I honestly couldn’t remember how good (or not) it was, so I went for it.

I blogged about it back in February. In that blog post, I made a comment about the allure that the salmon had for my huskies. I included a picture as evidence.

Well, as I sat here eating my reheated salmon chowder, my big guy was careful not to beg, though drool fell from his lips as he watched me eat. He’d ignored me all morning, but NOW I was interesting. Well, honestly, I wasn’t too into the soup, so with a little bit left, I put the bowl on the floor.

One thing to keep in mind: this dog ignores raw chicken, spits out venison treats, and often chooses not to eat a meal of kibble.


Devoured. I guess I should be feeding him northwestern salmon chowder.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dinner for a Friend: Crumb-Coated Chicken Thighs


Earlier this week, I had the privilege of having an old friend over for dinner. We went to high school together, then went to college in neighboring states, and then separated pretty completely. She moved to England for a few years and I moved first to Pennsylvania, then to Maryland. Now, she’s back in the States and working for Congress. It’s funny to meet up with someone you used to have sleepovers and bonfires with when you’re in your late 20s. I guess our conversation was a little different than it was back then, but hanging out was pretty much exactly the same as it used to be, except that we drank wine.  She’s a scientist and I’m in mental health, and we talked about the profound difference between those. I honestly remember having conversations like that in high school. Love it.

I made a dish that I’ve made several times before but never blogged bout because it’s so simple. Simple and delicious, yes, but simple. I guess I felt like a fraud taking pictures and saying “Look what I accomplished!” when an 8-year-old could have done the same thing, but ah well. I’m doing that now.

Start off with a mixture of bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned), salt, cumin, paprika, chili powder, curry powder, and black pepper in a large zip-lock bag.


Drop in chicken thighs and shake it, shake it, shake it like a polaroid polaroid picture. Drop on a pan and bake at a high temperature. The end.


For sides, I did roasted potatoes that are also too easy to blog about.


And remember that lime-cilantro rice that I screwed up last time? I made that again, though this time with only white rice, not a mixture of brown and white, and I did it in my rice cooker.



Apparently I didn’t get a picture of everything together. Forgive me, maybe it was the wine. Or maybe it was just too fun talking like a bunch of school girls. But it all turned out pretty well. A good hearty meal that left me with yummy leftovers for lunch the next day.

Thanksgiving Post #4: Double-Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

It should not have taken me this long to get this post posted. It’s so worthy of attention, but you know how things go. I’ve had a lot going on in the past couple of weeks, including starting a new class at school, having a client at work pass away very suddenly, and of course all the holiday stuff, like Christmas shopping and decorating.

Maybe you could consider this an early Christmas post, then. It could very easily go on the table for Christmas, and in fact I hope it does at my mom and dad’s house. So yeah, this is an early Christmas post.

First is the graham cracker crust. I’m glad I printed out the recipe, because the link inexplicably takes me to a rigatoni recipe now. But it’s simple enough, so I guess you can’t really screw it up. Last year I used store-bought graham cracker crust, but this year I decided to do my own. I’m glad I did.

First, crush a package of graham crackers. I tried to do this by hand for about 6, maybe 7 seconds, before deciding that the food processor was the way to go.


Add a little sugar and some melted butter. It still just looks like crumbs, but now they’re soft and warm.


Press the crumbs into a pie pan (ungreased, there’s enough butter than you don’t need any grease). This was actually a lot harder than I expected because it didn’t stick together as well as I expected. But it worked out with a little patience.


Recipe said to either refrigerate or bake it. I chose to refrigerate. Now for the cheesecake filling!

This is a recipe that was recommended to me last year by a friend. I was skeptical, telling her that hubby doesn’t like pumpkin pie. “Even people who don’t like pumpkin love this cheesecake,” she insisted, “Try it, seriously!” So I did. Hubby loved it, and of course I am a sucker for any cheesecake, so it’s on the permanent holiday list now.

First layer: regular cheese cake stuff. Cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Spoon half the mixture into the crust.


To the rest, add pumpkin (just a 1/2 cup, set aside the rest of the can for the dogs), ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.


And spread this mixture on top of the first layer.


After it bakes, it looks like this.


And here it is. So easy, yet so good. Man, I love cheesecake. And the pumpkin flavor in this is present, yet subtle, so even those pumpkin-haters won’t hate it. Kind of like how I like banana bread even though I hate bananas, I guess.


I definitely recommend this recipe, so I’m glad that my friend convinced me to try it last year!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Post #3: Sides

I’m starting to feel like I’m really behind now. Thanksgiving’s over a week in the past and I’m really into Christmas mode, yet I’m still posting about Thanksgiving. I’ll try to finish up soonish. My concern with taking pictures went by the wayside as my dishes neared completion, so I guess individual posts for these wouldn’t be very satisfying. I’ll do what I can.

Side dish #1: Sweet Potato Casserole (click for the recipe)

Last year I did mashed potatoes. That went well, but I felt like doing something different this year. Sweet potatoes, then. I’d never really worked with them before, so I googled different recipes. I hate marshmallows so I didn’t go with one that was topped with them, so I apologize for those who are disappointed. I found something that was way better, though.

I couldn’t believe how easy this was. Cook sweet potatoes (I peeled, cubed, and boiled them). Throw them in kitchenaid with butter, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs. Beat until creamy. Drop in a tiny bit of brown sugar before you realize you’re not supposed to do that yet.


Put together a topping of brown sugar, flour, butter, and pecans.


Sprinkle on top of the sweet potatoes and bake. It’s that simple, and not a marshmallow in sight. Yum. A nice sweet side to balance all the salty, savory dishes.


Side dish #2: French Onion Green Bean Casserole (click for original source)

I know it’s tradition to do a green bean casserole. I don’t think my family ever really did it, or if they did, it was just for a year or two, so I don’t have a family favorite to fall back on. The past few years, I’ve been using a Campbell’s recipe that (shockingly) calls for condensed cream of mushroom soup, plus some seasonings, mixed with green beans, topped with French fried onions. *Yawn*

I just don’t think it’s that great. But then I saw this other blog, and I just needed to make the dish that they described as a mixture between traditional green bean casserole and French onion soup. NEEDED to make it.

First, “Chef John” says to chop the onions in the direction of the grain, rather than across. Then again, he follows up with “They’re your onions, cut them however you want to.” But the point of slicing them this way is so that they’ll stick together better when you caramelize them.


Throw the onions in a large skillet and caramelize them. I have honestly never done this before, so I’m glad I had the video of his onions turning brown so I didn’t panic when mine did the same.




While you’re waiting for that, start a white sauce. Melt a little butter in a saucepan.


Add flour.


Stir in milk, then season with nutmeg, cayenne, thyme, and salt and pepper.


Spread half of your caramelized onions in a casserole dish that you bought for $10 at the grocery store last week but already love dearly.


Dump on 2 pounds of semi-cooked green beans (boiled for just long enough to take away the raw crispiness). How pretty.


Top with your white sauce. Lament the fact that it doesn’t look as creamy or thick as “Chef John’s” white sauce, though it does taste good.


Add Swiss cheese (your replacement for the gruyere that you couldn’t find at the store), then the rest of the onions.


Then completely forget to take pictures as you add a mixture of Panko bread crumbs and melted butter, then more cheese, and then bake it.

Side Dish #3: Cranberry Sauce

There’s nothing too crazy about this one. Mix together brown sugar, white sugar, orange juice, water, and cinnamon.


Cook until the sugars are dissolved.


Add cranberries and cook for about 10 minutes.


They make a lot of noise as they cook. Pop pop pop! Eventually, just remove it from heat and let it cool. That’s all.


Side dish #4: Cornbread Dressing

This was hubby’s project this year. He didn’t take pictures, though I took one of the cornbread before he worked is magic on it. He did all the work while I was off making the big bucks, so I’m not even going to try to write about it, either. Sorry.


And this is what you get. Pumpkin bread, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, French onion green bean casserole, and turkey with gravy (slightly pink from the brine and aromatics).


Nom nom nom. So worth the effort.

My coworkers devoured the leftovers. Guess that means it all turned out well.